How Can You Recognise a Stressed Horse?

How Can You Recognize a Stressed Horse

Oftentimes, a stressed horse signs are not immediately apparent or are brushed off as something natural.

Horses are powerful creatures. Their strength and agility are demonstrated on the race track, where they are honed and trained to outrun each other.

What are the factors that cause stress in horses? What are the signs that they are already under stress? And what happens if their stress is unaddressed?

Causes of Stress

Causes of stress in horses can be classified into two: Stress Caused by Training and Competition, and Stress Caused by Environmental Factors.

Stress Caused by Training and Competition:

  • Change in training. Major changes in the way they are trained and handled can cause them stress.
  • Being kept in stalls for too long. Being kept inside stalls for a long time without turnout and social interaction could trigger stress.
  • Loading and riding in a trailer. This happens when they are transported to and from the race track. Unfortunately, this is inevitable for racehorses.
  • Changes in routine.  This includes being transferred to a new stall and changes in feeding schedules.
  • Prolonged stall rest. Injury is a common occurrence in race horses, but being confined in a stall for too long is not good for them. 
  • Stressed rider. Stress coming from their rider can be picked up by horses. They can sense forceful movements, stiffness, and even anger.
  • Stressful interactions or lack of social bonds. If they are left alone for too long without a human or fellow horse companion, it could have an impact on their mental health. This is why regular turnout is important.

Stress Caused by Environmental Factors:

  • Giving Birth. Getting pregnant and giving birth is inevitable to female horses, so it is best to give them the best care during these situations.
  • Bad weather conditions. Storms and other severe weather can also cause them stress. Keep them warm and as comfortable as possible.
  • Strange animals. Animals they haven’t encountered before are considered strangers. If a stranger is within their distance, they might feel uneasy and threatened.
  • Lack of social stimulation. It is important to socialize them and help them gain friends from both humans and fellow horses. It will help them feel less threatened and reduce their jumpiness towards others.
  • Being alone. Being in solitary confinement is not good for any living being, including horses. It can have a negative impact on their mental health.
  • Farrier work. Regular hoof care can also cause them stress. Try to maintain only one farrier to help them feel more at ease.
  • A sudden change in staff. Horses can recognize people and anticipate their next interaction through an established schedule. If they have grown comfortable with a person who is suddenly replaced by someone else, it can be stressful for them.
  • Lack of perceived safety. This includes anything that makes them feel threatened.
  • Lack of nutrients.  They should be fed with grass, hay, grains, herbs, and fruits regularly.
  • Lack of natural stimuli. They need to see and experience nature, interact with other horses and feel the wind, the sun, and the rain. The absence of these things can lead to mental imbalance and stress.
  • Lack of exercise. As mentioned, horses need regular turnout, not just for their mental state but also to help them stay fit.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress:

Clinical Symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate and respiration.
  • Excessive sweating. 
  • Jumpiness.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss.
  • EGUS (Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome).
  • Excessive defecation and urination.
  • Colic.
  • Trembling.
  • Sore muscles, particularly neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Excessive yawning.
  • Diarrhea.

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Refusal to work or train.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Flightiness.
  • Depression.
  • Stereotypies.
  • Stall walking.
  • Yawning.
  • Tooth Grinding.
  • Bad behavior
  • Chewing or biting.

What happens if stress is unaddressed

  • Their performance becomes affected. Their performance on the race track becomes affected. They may refuse to cooperate, act strangely, and may even become violent.
  • Violence. If horses have been subject to stress for a long period of time, it can eventually backfire. They could become aggressive and violent to the point when they would kick, bite, or chase humans.
  • In some cases, it becomes fatal. There are numerous cases when a horse suddenly drops dead during or after physical activity. When their physical health becomes compromised due to stress, it could sometimes result in death.

Stress in horses can be alleviated by making sure that they live in an environment with optimum conditions. It is also helpful to reduce or eliminate all stressful stimuli.

A regular turnout is extremely important for your horse’s well-being. They need to be able to run freely because that’s how they were designed to live. It is also helpful that they are provided with a variety of foods where they could get proper nutrition.

They should be nurtured and taken care of, provided with vitamins and regular check-ups. Changes to their environment and daily routine should also be kept to a minimum.

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